The Trouble with Borders…

Albania. Before we embarked on our lengthy trip to the Peloponnese I spent some time googling Albania van travel. The results were mixed; some professing horror at the very idea, others eulogising about the wonders of the country. So I was none the wiser.

One of the difficulties we anticipated was insurance. It appeared that we’d not be covered by our own company, or indeed any conventional motor insurance company. But others had obviously managed somehow. This was our preferred route to the Greek mainland, having looked at other ways.

We crossed Montenegro with just one overnight stop [as described last in week’s post]. The landscapes, once outside the town of Budva There was a tiny vehicle ferry crossing to cut across a bay, which was fun and then a great deal of marshy land. Montenegro is a small country.

Then we arrived at the border ro Albania. And here we became tangled in a giant melee of every kind of vehicle waiting to cross. Lorries, cars and everything else. It was hot. We’d no idea how to proceed, or what we needed to get into Albania, neither did we speak any Albanian- not being a language one employs all that often.

After some time, a couple of men approached our open wndow and addressed us in broken English, the younger one sporting a lanyard bearing a card, which at least lent some semblance of authority. Were they officials? The only clue was the lanyard, which could have come from anywhere. While we could understand little we did get the part about paying 50 euros, which came across loud and clear. We had no Albanian currency. We did have 50 euros. The choices were to go back, to stay put or to pay the euros.

After handing over the cash, we waited again, convinced we’d seen the end of the euros, but after a long, hot interval we were presented with a certificate- very official looking and with a shiny gold stamp. This, then was our insurance! But we still had to negotiate passport control, where a stern official in a booth waited. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all the years of travel, it’s DO NOT JOKE, SNIGGER or MAKE SILLY REMARKS when going through passport control. Keep a neutral expression and be obsequious- which we did, and gained entry to Albania.

The roads were fine- better than when we’d done our day trip from Corfu. On the dual carriageway there were horses and carts among the vehicles but on the whole it was quiet. We found our campsite, glad to stop after a long, hot day of travel. We turned into the camping field and were greeted by a smiling teenager bearing a tray with iced coffees. Welcome drinks! This was a first! The campsite was excellent and boasted everything we needed, pitches draped for shade, well appointed showers and a washing machine. While it wasn’t busy we weren’t alone- several other foreigners had made it to the site.

Though we were keen to scoot on to the Greek border, the occupants of a neighbouring pitch told us we should not leave without seeing Berat, the local town, which we duly did, setting off and driving around, taking a look. It is indeed a picturesque and characterful place. But we had no wish to spend too long and soon we were heading off in the direction the SATnav instructed us to go. But the road Mrs Garmin wanted to take did not exist. We tried. We drove around…and around. I got out and showed some locals a map, upon which they shrugged and shook their heads. Albania is not well served by satellite mapping.

In the end we back-tracked a long way and found a fast motorway all the way to the Greek border- so we got there! But if we did it again we’d take a ferry from Italy!

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

The Bad, the Good and the Muddly

It was all going so well. When I left you last week we’d found a place to stay in Budva, Montenegro, we’d seen the town and enjoyed a meal on the harbourside.

Next morning the local bin men obliged us by waking us up early, giving us a good start for our entry into the next country-Albania. Before we got there, however there was a dramatic mountain pass to negotiate, a journey that afforded stunning views of the Adriatic, it’s coastline becoming miniature as we climbed higher. Then it was a steep descent with hairpin bends. The landscape gradually flattened and there were lakes and marshes.

P1050001

Montenegro is a tiny country-smaller than Wales-so it doesn’t take too long to get to the border with Albania; but it does take a little time to get across the border. Again there is the issue of motor insurance. Whilst we queued at passport control a casually dressed young man sporting a badge on a lanyard approached and spouted a cascade of Albanian at us, seeming to be a question. ‘Yes’, said Husband-and ‘No’ said I. There was a short hiatus, during which Husband and I conducted what I shall term a mild dispute as to whether he was enquiring if we had motor insurance or enquiring if we needed motor insurance.

The discussion was swiftly concluded by Husband’s handing over of a fifty euro note, with which lanyard man disappeared up some steps. His companion-[a would-be translator] waved us into the queue. At this point Husband’s heels dug firmly into the footwell and would not budge; he glowered until he saw a return on the fifty euros.

‘Oh ye of Little Faith’. Lanyard returned brandishing a sheet of paper embossed with a gold stamp-an advance on the scruffy scrap of Montenegro. Whether it was worth any more than the paper on which it was inscribed is doubtful, however we would not have wished to put it to the test.

On then-to Albania’s highways, upon which cows, dogs, donkey carts, pony carts, moped  carts and an altogether eclectic mix of vehicles, animals and humans besport themselves. This is a country where the population has the utmost faith in other road users-so much so that they feel confident to wander across a ‘motorway’ or wheel a barrow along the central reservation.

P1050040

The driving is outlandish, with meandering across to the other side of the road commonplace. Somehow we arrived at the campsite we’d selected near Berat and swung through the gates to see a smattering of van and motorhomes-as usual the intrepid Germans-and even another British van.

This was a little oasis with shaded pitches, beautiful showers, a bar and a restaurant. We heaved that inward sigh that follows an anxious day of travel and determined that we should follow our site neighbour’s advice and take a look at Berat, The White City, Albania’s poster-boy city.

P1050031

Ever-hopeful, and armed with a scribbled map that Donna, the camp-site owner had drawn us, we drove into Berat.

Five hours and three attempts to find the road south later we retraced our route back past the camp site and back towards Montenegro. Frazzled, frustrated, hot and defeated we acknowledged that the road marked on the atlas could not possibly exist. Mrs TT [the satnav slag] had taken us in circles or onto unpaved, rutted tracks.

At last, at the end of a long, hot, dusty day we arrived to the Greek border and it was with a mixture of sense of achievement and relief. Greece!